The 9thCircuit has used every conceivable device to reverse state court death penalty decisions. When unable to find any legal error on collateral review, the panel invokes “ineffective assistance. of counsel.” The Supreme Court decision in Martinez v. Ryan permitting ineffective assistance challenges to post conviction counsel offered the 9th Circuit another opportunity for reversal. But Wood v. Ryan, a 2-1 decision, exceeded all expectations in any death penalty case.
A state of Arizona jury found Wood guilty of first degree murder and sentenced him to death. After all the customary delay incurred by the 9th Circuit on federal habeas, the panel ran out of excuses. The Arizona judge signed Wood’s death warrant, and the State scheduled an execution date. Wood filed a petition seeking a stay of execution citing First Amendment grounds. Yes, free speech, freedom of religion, free press and assembly forbade execution without a hearing. According to defense counsel, Wood was entitled to know what drugs the state intended to use. The court granted the stay!
The dissenting opinion characterizes this argument as ” novel.” No, it is not novel. There are far better denigrating words to describe this absurd tactic. It took the Supreme Court 24 hours to vacate this complete departure from reason. Worse yet, it adds to the 9th Circuit reversal record now at an all time high.
In succession, another 9th Circuit decision was reversed by the Supreme Court decided even before the new term began in October. And on the opening day of the new term the Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit again in a per curiam opinion criticizing the appellate court for “time and again” refusing to fellow precedent. Then, one week later, the Supreme Court granted two more certs. from the 9th Circuit.